Samuel T. Herring probably isn’t that old, but his receding hairline and burgeoning beer belly put him at about 45. He’s not quite the spitting image of the Coors-shirt-and-cargo-shorts fashion non-statement that is normcore, but that’s only because he might really have played a physical education teacher on Seinfeld. His black t-shirt tucked into khakis screams washed-up uncle more than charismatic singer of an art-pop band from Baltimore—but guess which one he is?

Future Islands is a band that has never gotten its due. Formed in 2006 out of the dregs of its college lineup, the trio has toured relentlessly in small venues, always leaving an impression but never catching a break. Three sort-of-well-received but not-too-well-received albums deep, Future Islands spent last year recording their fourth and probably best album, “Singles,” and got invited to perform on Letterman. Usually, exposure on late night shows gives good bands good publicity, but Letterman is a famously frosty host. His reaction to some bands more resembles Ed Sullivan’s treatment of  “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by The Rolling Stones than Jimmy Fallon’s greeting of Ariel Pink.

But here’s the thing: Future Islands played spectacularly. The Independent called their performance of “Seasons (Waiting on You),” “jaw-dropping,” precisely because Herring looked like “a repressed P.E. teacher finally allowed to direct the school play.” As soon as the synth slashed into life, Herring began a bizarre delivery, part peacock-mating ritual, part ocean-cruise croon. He dipped and dodged across the stage, a true Napoleon Dynamite, voice straining in all the right places. 

Right as the song surged into the pre-chorus, Herring pumped his fist into the air only to draw it back as if only he understood the raw power of his energy. “People change,” he roared, before beating his chest and digging his pointer finger into his breast, “but some people never do.” Manic, hulking and utterly unforgettable, Herring and Future Islands finally found a medium they were suited for: TV. A stunned Letterman thanked them, crying “I’ll take all of that you got,” and soon after tried to turn Herring’s dance moves into a meme.

Whether or not Herring’s chest-pounding becomes as enduring a moment for late night television as Jagger’s eye-roll is unimportant. Future Islands’ performance on Letterman wouldn’t mean much if it didn’t highlight all the best things about “Singles:” its melodrama, its goofiness, its all-in attitude. The band owns its sound—self-described on Twitter as “too noisy for new wave, too pussy for punk”—on this record, just as Herring owns his combover and equally rubbery legs and voice. 

That voice is easily the most commanding presence on Singles. It occupies the space between guttural whisper and raspy falsetto, often within a single song, while Herring still manages to sound as effortless as a lounge singer. In “Fall from Grace,” he takes the spoken-to-scream structure from early National songs and blows Matt Berninger out of the water with a death metal cannonball.

“Was it all inside of me” might sound like the angst-ridden lyrics of a teenage metal band still in the “mom’s garage” phase of its career, but coming from Future Islands, it’s a revelation. Everything Herring sings could have been penned stream-of-consciousness, giving the songs enough fluidity to allow him to get down and dance. Egged on by basslines with a personality and bubbling slices of the synth, every song on “Singles” is a weird pop morass made even weirder by Herring’s off-kilter delivery. Neither cool nor kitsch, Future Islands has created a human album from inhuman elements. The songs grow, twist and ache with Herring’s pulse, as empty or as full as we’d like them to be.